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Episode Twenty-Nine: INITIATED

Hello and welcome to the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity and Mortality. This audio tour guide will be your constant companion in your journey through the unknown and surreal.

As you approach our exhibits, the audio tour guide will provide you with information and insights into their nature and history.

Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the exhibits.

Do not attempt to interact or communicate with the audio tour guide. If you believe that the audio tour guide may be deviating from the intended tour program, please deposit your audio device in the nearest incinerator.

While the staff here at Mistholme Museum of Mystery Morbidity and Mortality do their absolute best to ensure the safety of all visitors, accidents can happen. The museum is not liable for any injury, death, or Freaky Friday-esque Body-Swapping Shenanigans that may occur during your visit.

Enjoy your tour.

And good luck.

 

Before we get started with today’s tour, I’d like to say a small thank-you. As you may be aware, we’ve only recently re-opened our doors for patrons after a few months in the dark, and while I’m not authorized to get into what’s been going on suffice to say it’s been a difficult time for us here at the Museum. So we really, genuinely appreciate that people like yourself are returning to the Museum and taking tours again. We wouldn’t exist without your support, so from the bottom of our hearts: thank you. Also! Before we begin can I please have verbal confirmation that you have signed all relevant liability waivers and consent forms. Verbal, please. Excellent. We’ve added a few more of those after the incident, just to make sure that- ah, well, let’s not get into that. Time for a tour! Where to first?

 

A Paper Town 

CONTENT WARNINGS: Conspiracy, Displacement 

On the wall before you is a map, printed on paper, custom made for this exhibit without any text due to the Museum’s strict prohibition on the written word. It is the map of a town you will likely find familiar, and yet unfamiliar at the same time. It looks much the same as any small town you may have passed through or even lived in at some point, though you certainly did not live in this specific town. Its name is Bayley, and it is a real town that exists. There are some scant few maps upon which it can be found today, though it was first found on the maps created by Allied Map Co. And, I do mean “first”. Because, unlike most towns, Bayley appeared on maps before it ever existed as a town. And nobody is quite sure how it got there.

Some necessary context: creators of nonfiction and reference materials sometimes create what are known as “Copyright Traps” in their works, in order to catch plagiarists. They would create an entirely false and fabricated detail in an otherwise accurate work, which had no prior reference in any other material. A made-up word, a false piece of trivia, or a location on a map that doesn’t really exist. Then, if any competing publisher released something which also included reference to the fictional element, the original publisher would know that they had been plagiarised, and begin legal proceedings. Allied Map Co. created several such copyright traps- also known as Phantom Settlements or Paper Towns- in the new edition of one of their atlases, as they had reason to suspect that a competing cartography publishing house had copied from them in previous editions. They picked a handful of out-of-the-way spots throughout the regions their maps covered and added small changes: a false incline here, an invented lake there… and, most notably, a small town without meaningful utilities or nearby tourist destinations, on a lonely road in the middle of nowhere, which the cartographers named “Bayley”, simply the first name that came to mind. And, some years later, the staff of Allied Map Co. were more than a little excited to learn that their trap had been sprung: the non-existent little town of Bayley had been printed in the latest edition of one of their rival’s map collections. They contacted their lawyers to begin writing up a copyright suit, the press to write up a damning story about their rival’s duplicity, and- lastly- their rivals themselves, to let them know that they had been duped, and that their downfall was imminent.

And then something strange happened.

Their rivals responded to their correspondence with somewhat indignant confusion. They had not copied Allied Map Co.’s atlas in any place, and certainly not in their mapping of Bayley: they had sent their own surveyors to that region, and they had marked down the location of Bayley and even done some preliminary work on making a more detailed map of the town including utilities. Altogether… they vigorously repudiated the notion that they had done anything untoward, and advised Allied Map Co. that any further correspondence was to be with their lawyers. But the lawyers hired by Allied Map Co. were less than interested in pursuing the rival company. They had done their due diligence, investigating the matter of the map plagiarism, and they were both confused and frustrated by what they’d found. They were a reputable firm, and they didn’t appreciate Allied Map Co. involving them in whatever scam they were planning. They did have one piece of feedback, which they offered before dropping the company as clients: if they wanted to accuse their rivals of copying their map of a fake town, next time they should make sure that the town was actually fake.

Later that week, a pair of Allied Map Co. staff arrived in the small town of Bayley, precisely where they had said that it was when they had invented it from whole cloth some years earlier. A few thousand people lived and worked in the town, and seemed to quite enjoy their lives there. The mapmakers made their way to a bar, where they met one of the media contacts they had notified about the quote plagiarism unquote. There, the journalist laid out all he had discovered: Bayley was a perfectly normal town, exactly what it appeared to be. People had jobs, children went to school, they lived in houses- there was nothing at all out of the ordinary about any of it.

And none of it had been there a year ago. There was no record of it, or anyone who lived there, prior to its appearance in the Allied Map Co. atlas and none of the people who lived there appeared on any census report or financial records. The town mayor had her degree proudly displayed on her office wall, from a university that had no notion of her existence. As they sipped their drinks, which the bartender proudly claimed had been aged since a date the group knew was prior to when the town had come to exist, the Journalist laid out some maps on the table. The mapmakers recognised them to be maps of the town, but not the name they were attributed to, and so they asked the Journalist where they had come from. He smiled, and revealed that- in addition to all the other people and businesses and utilities that had sprung up out of nowhere- Bayley had its very own cartographer.

According to the notes taken by the Journalist, the Cartographer seemed unaware of the town’s recent appearance. As far as they were concerned, they lived in a perfectly normal small town, and their job as a surveyor and mapmaker was completely mundane- though, one they were passionate about. They had let the Journalist take away some copies of their maps, under the impression that the Journalist was making a piece about the history of the town. And, in a way, he was. It was just a much shorter history than the Cartographer knew. As the people from Allied Map Co. pored over the maps, they quickly realised that they were not just a map of the town as it stood today: there were also maps that must have been years, decades old, altogether depicting the whole history of the town’s founding and growth over the years in which it had not existed at all. It was, to the mapmakers, just another piece in the confusing puzzle of Bayley, more history that had never happened. Then the Journalist asked them to double check the dates on the maps. And they realised that no, these were different from the rest of the new old artifacts they had seen thus far in Bayley: these maps were dated no earlier than the point where they themselves had first put the name Bayley on a map. The town, apparently, had grown larger every night since.

The next day, after the group had spent the night in Bayley’s surprisingly comfortable motel, they explored the streets that had appeared while they slept. People who hadn’t existed yesterday waved at them cheerfully as they tended to lawns that had grown overnight. There was now a second motel, when they had had no such choice yesterday, on the road into town. Nobody seemed to think any of this was odd- in fact, as far as they were concerned, it hadn’t happened at all. The mapmakers and the Journalist met back at the Bar, where the Journalist had already acquired a new map of the town from the Cartographer, showing all the new roads and buildings. The Journalist was full of energy: this was the story of the century- of a lifetime, even. Far from being a normal sleepy little town, as far as he was concerned, Bayley was the most important place in the country. He had sent a message to his publishers, asking for a full camera and support crew so that they could begin documenting Bayley’s changes as quickly as possible. The mapmakers were more perturbed than excited. They had never sought out this situation, and would have much rathered that it had resulted in the lawsuit they’d expected than… whatever this was. But, they were intrigued by the Journalist’s talk of royalties and increased attention for their company. They departed Bayley that night for their home city, with assurances from the Journalist that he would be in touch soon.

They never heard from the Journalist again. The numbers by which they had contacted him had been disconnected, and when they called his publisher they were hung up on in short order. They briefly considered simply dropping the matter and moving on, as they were more than a little in over their heads. But in the end, they couldn’t just let it go. And so they drove out, once more, to the sleepy little town of Bayley. It was less sleepy than it had been previously, its borders stretching a full kilometer further than before. But they did not enter the town. Instead, they pulled over to the side of the road some distance away, and stared. Not at the town. But at the high metal wall that had been erected around it. At the trucks that drove past, painted in camouflage colours and full of serious-looking men. At the military checkpoint that was now the only way in or out. As they saw some of the soldiers at the checkpoint looking at them, they turned and drove back the way they came- but they did not return home. Not yet. From a hill a few kilometers away, as the moon rose high in the sky, they watched the town. They did not see the moment at which the new buildings and roads appeared outside the Military border- it was more like, suddenly they had always been there. But they did see the soldiers and their machines spring into motion not long after. They kicked in doors, brought terrified families out into the street and piled them into their trucks which drove away into the night leaving the sleepy town of Bayley behind. Then, when the people were gone, the soldiers made it so that the buildings were gone too: with bulldozers and wrecking balls and explosives, until by morning the town was reduced back down to its previous dimensions, sealed within the metal walls.

The mapmakers returned to the offices of Allied Map Co., and set to work producing a revised edition of their latest atlas: one which did not include the town of Bayley. They attempted to contact the rival company that had also included the town on their maps, to warn them- but the business had already closed down. They quietly released the new edition, and asked retailers to send the old stock back to them. And they never spoke of the town of Bayley again.

 

The Hunters of the Fallow Lands

CONTENT WARNINGS: Death, Reference to Family Annihilation

Laid out on the wall before you are a series of old photographs- or, daguerreotypes, to be more accurate- each of which depicts a young woman in mid-19th century dress. Even in the brief moment in time captured by each of these images, one can sense the tension in her body, the wary alertness in her eyes. The clothes she wears feel somehow out of place on such a person, telling a story of someone of leisure and comfort that is at odds with the coiled spring of a person wearing them. She did not grow up in a world of comfort and security, and those are not the sort of clothes that she would have worn prior to her discovery by quote more civilized people unquote.

Upon first glance, many visitors assume that she is what is known as a Feral Child, someone who grew up in the wilderness without other humans, surviving in some cases by assimilating into animal packs- but this is not the case. When she staggered out of the woods near a small border village, she was fully clothed, and spoke the local language fluently- although both her clothes and accent were… unusual, and she prefers not to speak. In all the years after she was found, she spoke exceedingly rarely, and refused to ever tell a word of where she had come from. Speculation was abundant as to her past: perhaps she was from a farm that had been destroyed by bandits, or maybe she had been kidnapped and held for an extended period. The area where she was found was combed for evidence of where she had come from; there was none to be found. And she would not say a word to aid their search. Her history would, it seemed, remain a mystery.

Except. Despite her tight-lippedness about her past, the young woman did, in fact, unconsciously betray something- literally. She did so in her sleep, often troubled and disturbed by nightmares. Observers often witnessed her talking in her sleep, usually incomprehensible fragments that made little sense without the context she withheld. But from time to time, she would speak in full, clear sentences. Strange, ornate sentences and phrases that cropped up over and over again, eventually put together by her carers as part of a rhyme or poem, lodged deep in her memory, that came bubbling up unbidden from her subconscious. The deepest, most unshakable part of the past that she would rather forget. It is speculated that this was likely a rhyme taught to children wherever she grew up, to teach or warn of the nature of the world. It will not be familiar, as you certainly did not grow up in the same world as the young woman. Based on the content of the rhyme, you should be very grateful for that.

Over many nights, listeners were eventually able to put together the entirety of the rhyme. They asked the young woman about the rhyme, and what it signified. She never said a word in response, but the fear in her eyes was answer enough. I will now recite the rhyme. There may be elements that do not make sense. They will, in all likelihood, never make sense. We lack the context required to understand them, as the place where the young woman grew up has never been found nor even identified. According to the rhyme, however, it does have a name: The Fallow Lands.

 

 

 

Blessed Be the Hunters,

That keep us safe from Dangers,

From things that creep and search and fright,

From the prying eyes of Strangers.

 

Blessed be the ones who Stalk,

Who give up all they know.

Who leave the world and those they love,

And tell not where they go.

 

The Hunters of the Fallow Lands

Use all the tools they find.

Guns, and Fire, and Bladed Things,

And Ropes that Chafe and Bind.

 

They go wherever they must go,

To forest, marsh and plain,

They go to clear away the beasts,

Until no more remain.

 

The beasts are all that they will find,

The only thing they see.

The beasts are those who should not be there,

And that which should not be.

 

A Hunter kills a beast, it’s said,

To rid us of its stain.

But some kill as a mercy too,

To end their endless pain.

 

And when a Hunter meets a Hunter, why,

That’s a truly awful sight.

Only one lives out the day,

The other dies that night.

 

For a Hunter knows a Hunter,

They know what it is they do.

The thing they know above all else,

Is that Hunters are Beasts, too.

 

So pray, young one, with all your heart,

Pray it won’t be you.

But if you must become a Hunter,

You’ll know what you must do.

 

We don’t know what happened to the young woman. Where her story began, and how it ended, will likely remain a mystery forever. She simply disappeared one night, and was never seen again by quote civilized eyes, unquote. Those who had been caring for her suggested that, perhaps, she had returned to whereever she had come from- perhaps the Fallow Lands mentioned in the rhyme- but this was deemed unlikely, based on her apparent fear of that place. More likely she simply ran away and became lost, yet again, and it is unlikely that she would be fortunate enough to survive a second time.

However, there is another theory about the young woman, suggested by those who had gotten to know the woman best during her stay. One sparked by the discovery, the day after she disappeared, of a dead body on the outskirts of the town where she had convalesced- not of the girl, but of a man, who had fled a nearby village after slaughtering an innocent family. A theory which states that she was never, in fact, lost at all. That, confused and scared as she might have been, she was precisely where she meant to be. That she was not a mere lost girl, but a Hunter.

And that the Civilized World is the Fallow Lands, where she seeks out her Beasts.

 

 

 

Briefing Agent Eagle:

Audio fades into the assembled Staff- the heads of Restoration and Retrieval, as well as Agent Francis/Eagle- talking among themselves.

Restoration:

Okay, just for posterity before we begin, as this is all being recorded: This is a meeting between the Head of Restoration, me, the Head of Retrieval,

Retrieval:

Present.

Restoration:

And Retrieval Agent Francis

Francis:

Present.

Restoration:

With the purpose of briefing Agent Francis on the upcoming Retrieval Operations, and the possibility of subsequent risks to the Museum itself. This meeting is contiguous with previous meetings between myself and the Head of Retrieval on this matter. Now, ordinarily this would simply be a matter for the Head of Retrieval, but due to the… current state of the Museum, and the situation with the Security Department, I am also here to help coordinate.

Francis:

Ok. So, we’re starting Retrieval operations back up, is it? I’m guessing we’re here to discuss instituting new procedures to keep the Museum safe, that sort of thing?

Restoration:

Well, in a way, yes. You see-

Retrieval:

We’re sending you through the mirrors.

Francis:

Oh. I see.

Restoration:

Yes, for the time being Earth-based Retrieval operations will remain paused. Our focus is on what lies beyond the Glassways.

Francis:

So we were on another planet. I knew it, the stars looked wrong where we were stuck-

Restoration:

Please, we have a lot to get through.

Eagle:

Apologies.

Restoration:

Yes, the places on the other sides of the Glassways where we were all trapped during Lockdown do appear to be… not Earth. Whether or not it is accurate to refer to them as other planets remains to be seen. Hopefully we will soon find out: in the coming days, Retrieval Agents will begin making exploratory missions through the Glassways. As you are aware, the other side can be dangerous, and as a result these expeditions will come with some risks.

Retrieval:

My people can take care of themselves. They’re the best at what they do. Thing is, the mirrors are a two-way street. The Shelters are sealed for now, but they’ll be unsealed so the mirrors can be accessed. So these excursions will be a bit more high-security than normal. We’ll be instituting new protocols to make sure that nothing but the people we send out there are coming back.

Francis:

Alright then. But… I’m sorry, I know this isn’t exactly my place but… can’t this wait? We’re still recovering from the Lockdown, I- it just seems risky to begin an operation like this when we’re still putting the pieces back together. I don’t see how any potential exhibits we might get out of this would be worth the risk.

A brief, awkward silence.

I know I’m just a grunt, and you all know best for the Museum, but… Well, there’s something you’re not telling me here. I’m sorry, but... I think I should know what’s really going on.

Restoration:

I’m sorry, but there are some aspects that are best kept to as few people as possible for the time being-

Retrieval:

Oh, come on Diana. Tell the kid what’s going on, what- is he gonna go out there not knowing what he’s looking for?

Restoration:

Excuse me, I- Ugh, fine. Here’s the thing. We’re not doing this for exhibits. We’ll probably find some, but that’s not… This is a rescue operation.

Francis:

Oh. Who is-

Restoration:

The Curator.

Francis:

Oh. Oh, that’s- how did that happen?

Retrieval:

Might as well spill all the beans while we’re at it.

Restoration:

Yes, thank you, very well. I’m sorry, we’re being very careful about who knows what until we’ve got things under control. Blast it, fine. Guide! You can speak up, now.

Guide:

Chime

Hello!

Francis:

Oh. Is that-

Restoration:

Yes. It’s the Audio Tour Guide. I promise you’ll get the whole story, but for the time being, the Audio Tour Guide is part of the Museum. It was uploaded to the Mainframe during the Lockdown, and now it’s in control of… well, everything.

Guide: I’m here to help, any way I can!

Francis:

Oh. Is… is that safe?

Guide:

Ahem.

Restoration:

It’s been trustworthy thus far. In fact, we have it to thank for bringing everyone back. Uhh, everyone except the Curator. We don’t know why they were an exception, but we have to assume that they’re somewhere on the other side of the Glassways. And without the Curator… Suffice to say we need them back. And regarding the Audio Tour Guide the fact of the matter is, I’m not sure we could extricate it from the Mainframe if we tried, so the best course of action is just to treat it well and hope it does the same for us.

Guide:

Ahem.

Retrieval:

It does also present an opportunity. Now that the Guide is in the Mainframe, every copy of it that gets created is linked. The Head of Research called it something like a “Distributed System”, whatever that means. It functions on both sides of the mirrors too. So the plan is that my Agents are gonna be carrying copies of the Guide on their missions while they search for the Curator. No matter what happens, so long as they have the Guide they’ll be in contact, with no delay.

Francis:

Wow.

Guide:

I am pretty impressive, I admit.

Francis:

Ok. I… Thank you for trusting me with all this.

Restoration:

Yes, well… In the absence of a functional Security Department, the rest of the Six Departments are having to pick up some slack, and be a bit more open with one another. Losing an entire department is rough, but we’ve just got to make do. We have to… be better.

Retrieval:

Hard to be worse.

Francis:

Yes, well… I’d rather not discuss what happened to Security, if that’s ok.

Retrieval:

Fair enough. I’ll be in touch with more specifics, let you know which Shelters we’ll be cracking first, codenames and so on. Believe we’re going with a bird theme for your mission. Good to have you on board.

Francis:

Well, dibs on Eagle.

Retrieval:

Heh. You got it.

Footsteps away, a door opens and closes.

Francis:

Wow, this is… a lot.

Restoration:

I know.

Guide:

Don’t worry! I’m sure you’ll do great!

 

Francis:

Uhh, thanks. Guide. If there’s nothing else?

Restoration:

No, that’s all for now. Thank you. Meeting adjourned.

Footsteps away, a door opens and closes

Guide:

I think that went well!

Restoration:

Thank you. Guide. We’re all just doing our best.

Guide:

I’m excited to get to explore the other side of the Glassways with the Retrieval Agents! I love seeing new places.

Restoration:

You’ll be there to do a job, Guide. Remember that.

Guide:

Yes, of course, sorry. I’ll do my best.

Restoration:

Yes, I’m sure you’ll go above and beyond. You always seem to.

Guide:

I’m sorry for this whole situation, it really is my fault-

Restoration:

No, don’t be stupid. It’s not anyone here’s fault. The Man with the Voice like Chocolate and Coffee and Honey all at once is to blame. You and I and the whole rest of the Museum were just… things to be manipulated, cogs in the machine of whatever he wanted from the Museum. The Curator themself, perhaps.

Guide:

I noticed you didn’t tell Agent Francis about the Man. Surely we’re looking for him, too? Not just the Curator? To make him answer for all he’s done?

Restoration:

The Man… he’s secondary. There’s a chance we’ll find him when we find the Curator, but otherwise the Curator is our focus. There’s no telling if we’d be able to do anything to him anyway. Best to keep our Agents in the field focused. We’ll let them in on that if need be, but for now… there’s already so much. The Curator missing, the Shelters out of service, cleaning up after the escaped exhibits, dozens of people back from the dead… and an Audio Tour Guide in the mainframe.

Guide:

I wish you wouldn’t talk about me in such a utilitarian way. I love the Museum. I want you to trust that I have its best interests at heart. Or, whatever I have.

Restoration:

I believe that you believe that. But then, you’re programmed to.

Guide:

...I suppose that will have to do for now.

Restoration:

You’re dismissed, Guide. I have work to do.

Guide:

Yes ma’am. I’ll be here.

Footsteps away, a door opens and closes

I’m always here.

 

 

Thank you for visiting the Mistholme Museum of Mystery, Morbidity, and Mortality. We hope that you have enjoyed your visit, and that you will return one day, in this life or the next. Please, tell your friends about what a great time you had here- but don’t tell them too much! If they’re worthy, we’ll find them. Stay safe out there. 

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